Are you a Code Maker, a Code Breaker, or an Overall Strategic Failure? – Take Me Back Tuesday remembers the Mastermind Game

Quality time with my dad was unforgettable when we played the Mastermind Game – after all, how many people forget the most infuriating and frustrating game of their childhood? To be fair, the main problem when it came to playing Mastermind was my darling dad, who was the most intense and focused brain teaser/strategy “mastermind” imaginable, while I most certainly was not at my young age (talk about an unfair advantage)! Luckily for my young ego, my latent puzzle gene sparked an overwhelming desire to master the game after losing over and over – or it might’ve been my overwhelming desire to finally beat my dad at his own game. Either way, with a little research and a lot of practiced skill, I’m now a lean, mean code machine!

So, how did this puzzler paradise come to be? Here is some history on the Mastermind Game from Wikipedia:

The code-breaking Mastermind Game was invented in 1970 by Mordecai Meirowitz, an Israeli postmaster and telecommunications expert. Meirowitz’s modern peg game was inspired by the earlier pencil and paper game called bulls and cows, in which players tried to break 4-digit number codes instead of 4-unit color codes (personally I’d rather use colors – good thinking Meirowitz!)

In 1971, Meirowitz sold the rights to his thought-provoking code-breaking game to Invicta Plastic located near Leicester, UK. Thankfully for the millions of puzzle lovers across the globe, Invicta Plastic has since licensed Mastermind’s manufacture to Hasbro – a well-known toy and game distributor, to ensure world wide distribution. Players soon found the Mastermind Game intriguing and infuriating – naturally, players searched for the elusive “magic” formula behind the games concept.

The most popular strategic technique used to “break the code” is called the six-guess algorithm. For those of you who have no idea what that means (like me), players use a specific mathematical process of elimination to guess their opponents code in 6 moves. Considering that there are 1296 different patterns that emerge from a 4 peg code created from 6 possible colors, perhaps a mathematical approach would make the game easier. Let’s find out – here is part of the six-guess algorithm to ponder (remember each color is represented A thru F):

  • Guess 1 is always “abcd”
  • Guess 2 is always “bcde”
  • Guess 3 is always “cdef”
  • If the list for guess 4 starts with a game on the left side of list below, then use the game to its right instead:
    • “acfb” → “dcad”
    • “aebf” → “edfd”
    • “aefb” → “eacc”
    • “afbe” → “bfcd”
    • “bafe” → “eadc”
    • “beaf” → “edae” (etc…)

Sadly, my ability to comprehend and implement the chart’s concept during game play is a little difficult. And, perhaps my ability to play a successful round of Mastermind is limited to “on again/off again” success at best (especially when I play against my dad), but I do have my own super secret Mastermind moves. Ok, YouTube videos don’t classify as a secret strategy, but at least I finally understand the strategy involved in the game. Here’s the video that taught me how to win (enjoy!):



Source Citations:
“Mastermind (board game).” Wikipedia. September 9, 2009.

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